Since the election of Trump, joy is elusive. "Dread" is in the air, not joy.
Carrying on as if nothing is wrong is part of the problem. But what shall we do?
He hasn't taken office yet and has made a number of huge mistakes. Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development?? What an insult – on so many levels. And it's not just a gesture: Trump's decisions will hurt real people. Watch.
What will become "normal?" Trump is an amateur and will make blunder after blunder. The consequences of just one of these blunders could be catastrophic.
But is all joy suspended? With all this uncertainty in the air, the feeling of joy is certainly a mixed affair.
I wonder if I'll look back to 2016 as "the last year before the Real Craziness began." If that's the case, let me celebrate some good things about my 2016, which was a pretty great year for me.
BEST READING: SVETLANA ALEXIEVICH
This year I read three books by 2015 Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich – SECONDHAND TIME, CHERNOBYL PRAYERS, and ZINKY BOYS.
And I cannot wait for her other two books to appear in English: THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR: An Oral History of World War II (her first book) and THE LAST WITNESSES: The Book of Unchildlike Stories (personal memories of children during wartime).
Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature based on only five books for a very good reason: these are GREAT books. Especially SECONDHAND TIME, which is an enormous, Tolstoyan achievement. Reading it not only makes you understand Russians better; it makes you understand the human race better. I can think of no higher praise for a work of art.
THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR will be published in the US by Random House in July, 2017. I've already pre-ordered a copy.
Alexievich's website --
BEST SPORTS VIEWING: THE WORLD SERIES
I missed a lot of the Dodgers' pennant run and Vin Scully's last games while the TG and I were in the UK, but I got home in time for the playoffs and the World Series, and I'm very glad I did. The entire Series between two under-dog, long-suffering, well-deserving teams was a treat, leading to that most wonderful thing of all of sports: a Game Seven.
And this Seventh Game was one of those you-can't-believe-what-you're-seeing games, right down to the last play when the Indians had the winning run at the plate. It was the the fifth time that a Game Seven had gone to extra innings, the first Game Seven to have a lead-off home run (Dexter Fowler), and the first one to have a rain delay, which happened just as the tenth inning was about to start. Talk about drama!
The Cubs were the sixth team to come back from a three games to one deficit to win a best-of-seven World Series, following the 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates, the 1958 New York Yankees, the 1968 Detroit Tigers, the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, and the 1985 Kansas City Royals. They won the last two games in Cleveland.
Post-season baseball is just about my favorite sports on TV, and this was a true classic. Time capsule stuff, like the 1986 Mets-Red Sox and the 1960 Yankees-Pirates, which I still remember. I was in absolute sports-junkie, out-of-my-seat heaven.
World Series Game 7 Highlights -- Cubs beat the Indians, 8-7 in the 10th
Steve Goodman sings "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" – one of the great baseball songs
Dave Frishberg sings "Van Lingle Mungo" – the greatest baseball song of all
BEST POP CONCERT: VAN MORRISON AT THE SHRINE (tied with STURGILL SIMPSON AT THE WILTERN)
I've lost count of the number of times I've seen Van Morrison in concert. Since 1972, it's somewhere between thirty-five and forty times. I've seen Van deliver many indifferent and/or uninspired (for him) shows over the years so it was great to see him – at the age of 70 – in the vicinity of the top of his game. The show that the TG and I saw at the Shrine Auditorium here in Los Angeles on January 16th while not the true Van stratosphere of his Caldedonia Soul Orchestra shows of the early 70s, his "Into the Music" tour of the mid-70s, or the "Astral Weeks" show at the Hollywood Bowl of 2008, was excellent, late-career Van Morrison.
I blogged about this show: BLOG #97 – TWO MUSICAL MASTERS IN 48 HOURS on January 19th. Check out --
-- for more detail. The setlist, etc.
And just a couple of weeks ago at the very end of 2016, in my post-election blues, I saw the other outstanding pop concert of 2016 -- Sturgill Simpson, for the very first time.
Boy, did I need that show! Sturgill is just reaching the first big peak in what I think will be a long career. Maybe not as long as Van who wrote his first stone classic – "Gloria" in 1965 at the age of 19 – but a long one. Sturgill's already thirty-eight. He won both Artist of the Year and Emerging Artist of the Year of the 2014 Americana Awards, along with Song of the Year "Turtles All the Way Down." Now with his most recent album A SAILOR'S GUIDE TO EARTH, his first major label release, his career is really exploding.
And he is taking artistic advantage of it. His sold-out concert (the first of two at the Wiltern, a fine 1,750 seat Art Deco theater built in 1931) showed me an artist who is willing to defiantly BE HIMSELF, just like Van.
First of all, Sturgill dressed like a suburban Dad, in comfortable, geeky shoes. No attempt to "outlaw" up himself, though the backdrop on his stage set did have a Devil and a Skeleton. In some ways, he was very much like early, prime Van; Sturgill was all about the music and the other musicians, not playing out to the audience. I don't think he said more than a couple of sentences to the passionate audience.
I've blogged about Sturgill before. Sturgill is actually his middle name. His full name is John Sturgill Simpson. Check out --
BLOG # 11 – MY TOP TEN GUMBO OF 2014 (Part 1)
BLOG #22 – FIVE NEW MUSICIANS I LIKE
BLOG #133 – POST-THANKSGIVING – AND PRE-TRUMP -- BLUES (WITH SUGGESTED REMEDIES)
Here is a hefty serving of Van:
The Frames'/ONCE's Glen Hansard meets Van Morrison – the classic Van story – a must for fans
Van sings "Caravan" with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra
Van and The Band sing "Caravan" from THE LAST WALTZ
Van sings "Ballerina" – from the Hollywood Bowl "Astral Weeks" shows of 2008 – his second-to-last song at the Shrine
Van sings "Into the Mystic" – from German TV – his last song at the Shrine
Van Morrison sings "Celtic New Year" on Jools Holland's BBC show – just lovely
and more live Sturgill
Sturgill covers Nirvana's "IN BLOOM"
Sturgill Simpson covers William Bell's "YOU DON'T MISS YOUR WATER"
Sturgill sings 'LIFE OF SIN" on David Letterman
BEST DRIVE: THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE (Tie between Devonshire and the Lake District)
There are 8,760 hours in a year, and some of my best hours in 2016 were spent driving around the gloriously beautiful English countryside. I don't know how many miles the TG and I drove on our two-week jaunt after a week in London. I probably should have kept track at the time, and now I can't possibly reconstruct our route because we got lost so many times. Besides driving from place to place – from the car rental office in Exeter to Chagford to Bath to the Cotswolds to Warwickshire to the Lake District and finally to Edinburgh -- we drove hundreds of lost miles. Despite the grateful presence of a talking GPS, we still got lost many, many times but fortunately we were lost in some of the most beautiful storybook countryside I've ever seen.
The ubiquitous flocks of sheep aid the storybook feeling. Lots and lots of sheep everywhere. When I mentioned to a UK friend of mine where were going, he sniffed, "Oh, you're going to all the nice places!" Not where he was from in the grimy, Industrial North.
It was so much fun, being lost and driving on the left. We drove through rolling farmland on roads so narrow that the GPS only called them "ROAD." It was dangerous fun the whole time, unlike the LA freeway driving that I'm used to which us just plain dangerous.
I didn't hit a thing in the whole two weeks in the UK, I only curbed a tire, and I have mental pictures of some earthly paradises in England that will stay in my mind forever.
"Jerusalem" – words by William Blake (from his epic "Milton a Poem", music by Hubert Parry – the great anthem celebrating England's "green and pleasant land"
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land
LAKE DISTRICT PHOTOS
DARTMOOR NATIONAL PARK in Devonshire
BEST REGULAR ACTIVITY: GRANDPARENTING
The very best thing about this year for me was my deepening relationship with my grandson Calder. He turns two years old on December 12, the same birthday as Frank Sinatra, and he is my new best friend. Who would think that at my age, with my defined circle of friends and family, and a job that keeps me in my own office almost all the time, that I would have a new best friend?
I'm from the Sixties when we were caught up in the glorification of youth and youth culture.
"Don't trust anyone over thirty." "Hope I die before I get old." "Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse."
Well, we were wrong. There are many advantages to getting older, but perhaps the best of them is being a grandparent. You can't be a grandparent unless you're old (unless you're Loretta Lynn who was a grandmother at 33, although that number is now is some dispute.)
Twice a week – once at our place, once at theirs -- I get Pure, Innocent Love from the sweetest, smartest little boy in the world. I read to him. I take him to the playground. We share food (he's a heroic eater). And I try to teach him about the world while I keep him SAFE. That's Goal Number One.
And the great thing is he loves me almost as much as I love him. He calls me "Bapa" and talks to me on an imaginary phone when I'm not there. He loves to climb on me and be tickled by The Claw. He calls my name when he wakes from his nap.
Nature knows something. This jolt of pure love in the sunset portion of my life is like nothing else I've ever experienced. As the TG says, wherever Calder goes, a light seems to follow him.
In a dark year – with dead Edward Albee, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Garry Shandling, Nancy Reagan, Sharon Jones, Alan Rickman, Gwen Ifill, Gordie Howe, Michael Herr, Elie Wiesel, Harper Lee, George Martin, Gene Wilder, Lonnie Mack, Florence Henderson, Dan Hicks, Fritz Weaver and living Donald Trump – Calder has been my light.
(And what are the other advantages to getting older? I think those are worthy of another blog.)